Friday, May 13, 2016

California June Elections: CCC Criminal Justice Endorsements

It's that time again! Elections are afoot and CCC is here with criminal justice endorsements. Our thoughts about the candidates and proposals are limited to their criminal justice and corrections policies, and you obviously may have other considerations in mind. These summaries are here to be useful and informative to the extent that criminal justice concerns drive your vote.

Candidates for Office

President of the United States

Democratic Party: No Endorsement, slight preference for Bernie Sanders

Both Clinton and Sanders have spoken fairly little on criminal justice reform, and when they had it was mostly regarding the issues of stop-and-frisk and police-community relations in the context of Black Lives Matter. Predictably, they both toe the line here: police reform is necessary, racial discrimination is deplorable, and stop-and-frisk are ineffective. Who would actually impact criminal justice matters while in office is a different matter: police-community engagement happens overwhelmingly on the local level, and therefore any declarations on that front would have little impact on people on the ground. The Clinton campaign has done an admirable job apologizing for the 1994 Crime Bill, though its impact on increased punitiveness has been fairly small (again, given its federal scope: most criminal justice policy happens at the state and local level.) Sanders speaks of shutting down the private prison industry, but again, that's a misleading perspective aimed at pandering to progressives--public prisons these days are public only by name, private prisons incarcerate a very small percentage of U.S. prisoners, and the parade of horribles in prison conditions does not suggest that private prisons are significantly worse than their public counterparts. The slight preference for Sanders comes from the fact that he opposes the death penalty (Clinton supports it), though the extent to which the U.S. President can bring about abolition is questionable. No matter how happy you might be with these folks on other matters, we will be pining for the Obama-Holder initiatives and for the bipartisan reform spirit they encouraged for several years to come.

Republican Party: No Endorsement

Trump is a massive nightmare from the criminal justice perspective. His xenophobic, inhumane positions on immigration alone should indicate the extent to which immigrants will be criminalized and detained with him in office. But the others are not much better. With Rick Perry and Jeb Bush out of the race--the only two signatories to Right on Crime, and the only two with solid records of prison closures--we are left with rabid old-skool punitive demagogues. Ted Cruz, who in 2010 seemed a sane voice for criminal justice reform and even co-sponsored legislation to mitigate the effects of the war on drugs, has since then changed his tune and is vocally critiquing President Obama for early releases and mandatory minimum relaxation. Jim Gilmore is a strong supporter of the death penalty, using florid and polarizing rhetoric in describing its appropriateness, and has declined to stay executions under truly horrid circumstances. John Kasich would have been a difficult choice on other policy matters, but in criminal justice he has a solid record of reforms in Ohio, reforming drug programs, closing down prisons, etc. There is still a lot of work to do in Ohio: overcrowding, pay-to-stay jails, and other scourges. But Kasich would have been the far lesser evil in this far-from-ideal roster. As things stand, there's no winning on criminal justice matters with the Republican roster.

United States Senator: Kamala Harris, with some reservations

Kamala Harris is a smart, solid and thoughtful public servant and politician. Her book Smart on Crime shows an ability to think outside the box and her career as San Francisco D.A. was marked by a willingness to work with the Public Defender's Office to introduce initiatives such as Clean Slate. As California Attorney General, Harris' decision to appeal Jones v. Chappell was surprising and hurtful, especially given her personal opposition to the death penalty. Her enthusiasm for truancy courts also raises some questions about whether we are criminalizing people for a phenomenon mostly linked to poverty. But even a cursory glance at the other candidates' statements clearly show her leaving every single one of them far behind in terms of experience, resourcefulness, and, to be honest, sheer literacy. She is our best choice.

United States Representative: Jackie Speier

Speier is running unopposed, but I would pick her out of a hundred candidates. Her unwavering commitment to human rights and her work to expose and eradicate sexual assault in the military are admirable and important, and she has represented us very well. No reservations whatsoever.

Member of the State Assembly, District 19: Phil Ting

Ting hasn't done a whole lot in the field of criminal justice, but he is responsible for an excellent and well-balanced gun control bill, which introduces the possibility of a "gun violence restraining order" for folks found by courts to be a danger to themselves and others. It's a sensible balance between Second Amendment rights and the protection of lives. I've tried, in vain, to find Taylor's positions on criminal justice matters. Ting is the incumbent, and seems to be widely endorsed on other grounds, so I doubt Taylor's odds are that great anyway.

Member of the County Central Committee / Assembly District 19: Angela Alioto

Several good people in that roster, including firefighter and community organizer Keith Baraka, but Alioto has vast experience in San Francisco politics and is a compassionate advocate for the homeless--one of the few people that stood up to Care Not Cash. But you can make other good choices here.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office no. 7: Victor Hwang

All three candidates are qualified and thoughtful: Paul Henderson is an experienced prosecutor, Sigrid Irias is a civil litigator, and Hwang is a civil rights attorney. My preference for Hwang is mostly due to the fact that people with defense/civil rights backgrounds are underrepresented in the judiciary and some balance would be a good thing. Numerous endorsers agree.

State and Local Measures

Only one of these is directly related to criminal justice and that is--

Measure D: Yes, with reservations

Under Measure D, every incident within San Francisco involving a SFPD officer firing a gun that results in death or physical injury would be referred to the Office of Citizen Complaints. In general, more oversight is not a bad idea; sunlight is the best disinfectant, and police-community incidents in San Francisco, including the death of Alex Nieto, the racist and homophobic texting scandal, and others, suggest that there's plenty of work to be done here. However, the measure comes with a $5 million price tag, and would add 6 investigators to an office that is already understaffed with 17 investigators. Some think that the measure is not enough, and the Office doesn't have a reputation for thoroughness where police conduct is concerned. 

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